These three designers make wearables that measure the world around you

Sometimes it seems that technology is at odds with the art world: a tension between the brain and the heart. But many artists, from Da Vinci to Cory Arcangel, have shown that this is not true, and they continue to demonstrate it as technology evolves. In Technographica we explore how contemporary artists use technology in unusual and unexpected ways.

I'm standing in a huge warehouse studio in New York City, wearing a gray jumpsuit that vibrates randomly as I walk around. Sometimes, nothing happens, and the outfit feels like a extra-thick space uniform that slightly limits my range of motion. But every once in a while, little buzzers near my shoulder blades and back jump around my skin. The monkey, named Ceres, is connected to the near-Earth objects API of NASA, and those vibrations that I feel are indications of asteroids near Earth's orbit.

The suit is just a prototype, but the creators eventually want anyone to be able to use it anywhere. It was created by Wearable Media, a fashion technology studio based in New York City. The founders of Wearable Media, Yuchen Zhang, Jingwen Zhu and Hellyn Teng, want to change the way we interact with our clothes and, by extension, with the world.

Wearable Media is filling a gap in the clothing industry, and it's not just aesthetic. His work pushes against popular ideas about what wearables are supposed to do. Where other wearable companies measure and track our bodies, Wearable Media wants to use our bodies to track the world.

Writer Lizzie Plaugic outside of New Inc.

Jingwen Zhu, Yuchen Zhang and Hellyn Teng walk to Lizzie Plaugic through materials and some of the first prototypes of their garments.

"Many of our concepts come from the idea of ​​& # 39; How do we build awareness with our environment? & # 39;" says Teng. "How can we bring the imperceptible to the physical in garments?"

Zhang, the CEO; Zhu, the CTO; and Teng, the creative director, have been making clothes together since 2016, but Wearable Media was not officially launched until April 2017, when they were accepted by the New Museum incubator project of New Museum, which provided them with space for study, tools creative, and workshops that needed to expand.

Now, Wearable Media has three main prototypes, ranging from the physically interactive to the more traditional design: Ceres, the asteroid buzz; Audrey, a neoprene shirt, connected to Instagram that uses augmented reality to reveal the "aura" of a user; and Project Reefstone, a loose, fluid vest that is supposed to resemble a bleached coral reef and was designed using scientific climate data.

Compared to other wearables such as the AR smart glasses from Toshiba or any of the dozens of fitness trackers available, the Wearable Media prototypes are a first-rate, or at least fashionable, company at the same time. Each piece looks like something you might see in a high-end clothing line or something experimental. "Many times, when people want to use technology for portable devices, they focus on technology," says Zhu. "But we want to bring the beauty of technology to fashion." They are inspired by the design of the fashion shows, and their use of materials, such as neoprene, follows the latest trends in the world of fashion. For Wearable Media, wearables are not only about tracking our bodies, but also determining how our bodies look when they interact with our environment. "We want to impact people on a psychological and emotional level with our designs, not just tell people how many steps they took," says Zhang.

The Ceres suit definitely had a psychological impact on me. I do not think of asteroids every day, but in the monkey, I have no choice but to be aware of the objects that pass near the Earth minute by minute. "Ceres is basically an exploration of turning our human form into a celestial body," says Teng. "Space in many ways seems imperceptible to us, so we wanted to think of a way to bring history to our bodies and know that we live in a larger cosmos."

Mono Ceres from Wearable Media.

By contrast, Audrey is a shorts that is supposed to reflect our online Aesthetics, largely because it connects to the user's Instagram account. While it looks good in the flesh space, a black neoprene shirt with lines and shapes, Audrey has a second design that can only be seen through the AR application of Wearable Media. When the shirt is connected to Instagram and seen through the AR application, the printed pattern seems to float around the user in different colors. As the different colors are extracted from the photos in the user's Instagram account, Wearable Media calls it "digital aura". When I tried the shirt, it was connected to the Wearable Media Instagram account, but finally Wearable Media wants it customized for each user. It's more fun than functional, but it's not hard to imagine Instagram influencers buying it en masse.

Audrey top of Wearable Media.

The Reefstone project has an even simpler approach. It is composed of many wavy panels of lightweight cloth that have been laser cut into different sizes to represent the global data of the ocean-to-ocean temperature index compiled by NASA over the past 40 years. Lain flat, each fabric panel represents what a year of global temperature change looks like on a graph. "That was probably the most analog of our clothes, because the software we created basically created the patterns for the garment," says Teng.

Wearable Media & # 39; s Project Reefstone Vest.

Zhang, Zhu and Teng rely mainly on a rapid prototyping process to create their garments, and they are constantly testing different ideas. Teng describes his process as "quite organic", and says that it is mainly a matter of seeing how far they can take new technological concepts, while keeping it human. Apart from that, "it just happens magically," he says.

Wearable Media does not focus on a particular type of technology or clothing. Each garment is a different project that tries to explore a facet of our world, whether in social networks, climate change or the cosmos. And technology increases the concepts behind garments, and provides a way for Wearable Media to experiment. Because it is a young company, Wearable Media's prototype collection is small, but they do not want to put a limit on the products they could finally launch.

The founders of Wearable Media say they want to change what self-expression looks like and create concepts that explore how humans interact with technology. "We're working with the body, so you're literally intimately connected with the technology and the textile you're wearing," says Teng. If you know the concepts behind them, it is impossible to use a Wearable Media prototype without being physically aware of the world around it.

The problem with a lot of current advanced design technological garments, even when made with real humans in mind, is that designs are often only available to an elite group, often people with a lot of money. "We see that many fashion technology projects are just for catwalk shows," says Zhang. "There's only a very small number of people who can use it or try it, for us, we want to make a wearable that everyone can experience."

Ceres will be available for purchase in a limited collection this summer, if everything goes as planned. Zhang says that the monkey's personalized orders could reach $ 4,000. In the next year, Wearable Media plans to launch a ready-to-use line widely available and "much more accessible".

"We realized that the most important thing about the integration of technology was not the technology itself," says Zhang, "But how do you tell a story, how do you create a look and how do you create a style of full life behind this technology "

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